Author’s note: This post was inspired by the movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. However, unlike Lara Jean, I am (on my own accord) “mailing” out love letters to all the hills I’ve ever loved.
We all have certain hills that are forever burned in our memory — ones we’ve revisited, ones that we share with others, ones that incite laughter at the very thought, ones that make us a little sad, and ones that gently remind you to stay true to yourself — and those memories help define our trail running experience.
So, cheers to all the hills I’ve ever loved — before, during (eh…..maybe…probably not completely), and after.
Rattlesnake Hill — Canaan, CT
We got off on the wrong foot. Like, really wrong foot. As in… I pooped-my-pants-running-you kind of foot. I know, it was totally my bad. I was 17 and had zero clues about anything, much less conceptualize the idea of going to the bathroom before sprinting up and down a hill multiple times. But, you know, you really defined my hill experience. And like, not in a bad way. More like you set a precedent for what to do and what not to do (i.e., don’t eat things that upset your stomach before you run). For example, you were the first hill I set a goal for — as in, initially I set a goal to run up you the entire way and then when I completed that, I set a goal to run up you multiple times. Which is also how I wound up sprinting into the nearby cornfield to, well, you know. All the same, thank you for being you.
Bear Mountain — Salisbury, CT
My dearest Bear,
You were my first true love. I’d hiked you more times than I can count as a kiddo. I saw my first not-garter-snake on your trail. And one time on a 4th of July years ago, as I was hiking down in the dark, you scared the total shit out of me: what we thought was a hungry mountain cat wound up being a baby eagle, so that was cute and thanks for giving me a heart attack. But running you was completely different than simply puttering through your stony outcrops. I had to be methodical, deliberate, and slow as I trod the path — otherwise, I’d face the consequences of a rolled ankle, stubbed toe, or unintended launch into the scrubby pines that decorate you. You provided solace and comfort when I first graduated from college and felt the true turmoil and fear of the unknown. You were there for me again when I returned home to say goodbye to my ailing Grandfather. I know the next time I come home, you’ll be there with your dusty parking lot, white blazes, and deer ticks abound.
Mount Jumbo — Missoula, MT
You undoubtedly kick my ass every time I run you. You are never not hard. Your cousin, Waterworks Hill, seems to laugh at me every time I grunt and grovel my way up. However, you were especially difficult the first go around. At the time, Missoula was engulfed in midsummer fire-induced smoke and I, being a lowly New Englander (where fires happen to houses not hillsides), didn’t know any better and went out for a run when Apple’s weather report read “smoke.” Nothing else. Just smoke. Brilliant, I know. But boy oh boy, you taught me how to love a hill. You were and are the epitome of a “power hill.” You taught me when to walk a hill and to be kind to myself when on said hill. You reminded me that being hot out the gate rarely did no one any good — in doing so I could expect a less than graceful descent down your well-trodden pathway. You taught me that it’s safe to rage-run and cry, but to keep my eyes and heart open because, well, seeing where you’re going is important. You were my introduction to the West with all of your fox rain and sagebrush glory, and I am forever grateful for you.
Lonely Little Farm Hill — Somewhere, MA
My Loving Little Farm Hill,
I must’ve looked completely insane running laps around you, this lonely little knoll, in the middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. I mean, I felt insane. I genuinely don’t remember how I discovered you, the town you were located in, or even if I was allowed to run on you, but you got the job done. Sort of. I don’t even think I finished the assigned mileage. I think I panicked about potentially being on private property and peaced out. I remember your tall wet grass, giant pockets of mud left by tractors and various other machinery, and being completely terrified of the probability that at least one tick was lurking around the grass, waiting to munch my leg. All the same, Chris, Gunny Dog, and I had a blast sliding around in the wet grass, acting like a bunch of kids. You were a welcome reprieve in an area where we felt out of place and were terribly heartsick for the West. Thank you, little farm hill, for humoring us.
Lake Blanche — Salt Lake City, UT
Wow, uhm. This is more of an apology note than it is a love letter, but….I am so sorry I ralphed my lunchtime tacos all over your beautiful scrub oak hillside. In my defense, they were unexpectedly spicy and I may or may not have wrongly assumed that I had an iron stomach. I mean, in hindsight, I probably should have expected that to happen. It’s not exactly rocket science — Spicy Tacos + Late July Heat + Running + Very Varied Terrain + Elevation Gain = High Probability of Pukemon Occurring. But you know, I guess that’s part of growing up and getting older. You and your body both have an equally low tolerance for bullshit. And you reminded me of that, Blanche. I’m just grateful it didn’t come out the other end. You probably are too.
Smugglers Gap to Black Mountain and BST — Salt Lake City, UT
You’re wild, you know that? Every time I think I know you, you come back with some sort of wacky and weird twist — gopher snakes disguised as rattlers, snow-covered hillsides in July, and ball-bearing-like gravel that sends you flying down the hillside as Western Whiptails dodge your general (disdainful) existence. Damn judgy lizards. Remember that one time in early May, when all the baby horny toads had just hatched? I’d never seen anything like it. They were the same color as the sandy trail, lending appropriate camouflage from predators, but also making for a rather precarious hike. I didn’t wind up running many sections that day because I was so preoccupied with watching them hop and skitter around the trail. They looked like pint-sized prehistoric creatures with their spiny exterior and long, blank stares. Plus, the very thought of stepping on one broke my heart. I think that’s when I really fell in love with you. You have an important ecosystem all of your own — one that fluctuates with the seasons and even by the day. And I get to bear witness every time I visit you. I suppose that’s why I come back so often. From horny toads to unexpected post-holing through snowy embankments in July, you are nothing short of an adventure.
The Reflector Loop — Big Sky, MT
I had to see you for myself. Chris also wanted to share you with me. You should know that Chris talked about you quite a bit. He loved you so. Back when he lived in Big Sky, you were his go-to jaunt. I can see why. You’re kind. And it doesn’t hurt that you pull out all the stops in a short amount of time — your tall bear grass, lodgepole pines, rolling hills, and Big Sky vistas quickly take your breath away. That could’ve been the elevation though. Chris mentioned the resident grizzlies who share the forest groves and hillsides with you. I have to admit, I was nervous. Utah doesn’t have much in the way of bears, but I got the sense that all beings in Big Sky (large and small) agree to amicably coexist. It’s a funny thing, to share a hill your partner loved before you and your relationship became “a thing.” Running through your bouncing trails felt a little like I was manipulating time, space, and science — like flubber, but not. It was surreal and magical and strange. I was worried I wouldn’t like you. But I did. And I’m glad I got to meet you considering how important you were to Chris. It’s good to bridge those gaps — and those gullies and hills.
A Dropped Pin in Uinta National Forest — Uinta Range, UT
A month after I lost Mom, I found you. It was by accident. We parked the truck and set up camp on some errant BLM road as we always do and set off on foot to explore the surrounding area. I didn’t have an agenda. The further I pushed up the winding fire road, the more I saw myself in the forest around me. It was like you too had been hollowed out by grief. The gaping wounds of backhoe tracks were constant enough reminders. However, the concave hillside, with its jagged and raw cliff line, is what pushed me over the edge. I felt the enormousness of your world sitting on my shoulders. What should have been a lush hillside was now a cruel site of mastication brought on by humans. It felt unfair to destroy a hill for what I speculated was no reason at all. I feared you had been destroyed entirely, so I set my mind on going up. To gain closure, to ensure you weren’t completely gone, or something. Admittedly, I have never felt compelled to get to the top of anything but here I was, bushwacking my way through bramble and fallen trees. Hoping that there was something beyond the weight, the hollow, and the unjustified. And lo and behold there was: fields of wildflowers, new growth in the shadow of old burns, mud-puddling butterflies, and a panoramic view of the Uinta National Forest. You, dear friend, offered me the much needed reminder that in the wake of sadness and destruction, love and life does indeed prevail — no matter how hollow you might look and feel. And criminy, who’da thought I would’ve gained that from a damn hill?
P.S. — To All the Hills I Didn’t Include, I Love You Equally